Taken at God's Own Junkyard

Taken at God’s Own Junkyard

Straight ladies: being up-front about your desires and attractions is a feminist act. Everything from sending the first overtly flirty text to full-on dragging a male partner into bed to get your bit is doing women everywhere a service, and in a small but necessary way, making sex and communication about sex for EVERYONE better.

This is something I think about a lot, and Laura Bates’ article on shouting about sexual pleasure inspired me to put down some words about it.

From the beginning of a girl’s romantic and sexual exploration, our society teaches her to quash her feelings. Media shows her that pretty women are proposed to by macho-men in elaborate settings; it-girls give in to arduous and extended wooing efforts from their dominant male classmates; sex is something to be avoided and refused until the very last minute, as part of an impenetrable custom in which men jump through hoops to “win” intercourse while women play coy. Mainstream porn shows her that when a woman does give in, she is to lie motionless, corpselike but for her moans of appreciation for rough, male-centred, one-sided penetrative sex.

This all translates in real life to unspoken but rampant rules about who can text who first, who is deemed a desperate slut for asking a guy out, who should lead and control any sexual activity, and the absolute negation of the reality of female desire. Expressing an interest in sex is a totally foreign and unattractive concept to a girl by the time it becomes a part of her life. Initiating sex with anyone other than your long-term boyfriend is definitely not the done thing, and “giving in” to a guy too quickly into a new relationship is constantly diagnosed as a surefire method to make him see you as a repulsive throwaway slag forever more.

Not only is waiting around for a guy to do the socially-expected amount of begging a total waste of time, it also enforces a misunderstanding of sexual equality that contributes to rape culture and the tragic frequency of non-consensual sex. Let me be clear here; women who have been trained to play down their desire are absolutely not to blame for rape culture. I do think, though, that if we were empowered to shout about when we wanted sex, it would lead to better communication between men and women and detract from some of the confusion in young men around consent. If an exclamation of “Yes!” from a woman in response to sex became less of a demonised act, it would diminish the instinct in men to nag and beg and wrongfully assume that a woman’s “No” shouldn’t be taken as fact. Visible ownership by women of their sexual desire might also lead to less feelings of entitlement in men around women’s bodies – if we proved the perception of women as passive beings wrong, men might be less stupidly aggressive by catcalling or being creepy on nights out and online.

If you really do enjoy “the chase”, go for it, enjoy yourself. If, however, you think you could enjoy telling a guy how you actually feel instead of spending too damn long crafting coquettish replies to his winky-faced WhatsApps, know that doing so will make the world a better place. Bringing a guy home because you want to fuck and not because you’ve both adhered to some obscure and out-of-date sexual etiquette unravels the public misperception of women’s sexual desire, decreases pressure on men to be dominant and aggressive, and lowers the chances of some dirtbag groping your arse as you walk up the club stairs just because nobody feels like women can actually be interested in sex without it being shoved in their face. Getting with a guy you’ve had your eye on when and how you want to teaches men not to attribute value to sexual partners based on how well a woman upholds her chastity.

Leaving these kinds of problems up to women who are able to be confident about their sexuality is absolutely not the solution to sexual inequality and sexual violence, but it is, I think, part of a solution.


I love London utterly, but I hate that living here has forced me to shout at strangers on a weekly, sometimes daily basis.

Street harassment feels like an epidemic here. No doubt it’s gone on for a long, long time before my move here in June, but for me it feels like it’s coming to a fore. Laura Bates’ excellent article on the everyday sexism encountered by any woman who dares to enjoy some exercise in a public space sparked a massive response online. Speaking about the regular assault we all endure in a measured, even casual way struck a chord with many who been forced to accept this as a fact of life in London.

The day after I moved here, I tweeted about the prevalence of catcalling and ogling, and some hideous troll responded: “That’s the way we do things here, Heather love. If you don’t like it there are plenty of other places to live!”

I passed that off as a stupid internet interaction, but three months later I feel like the street harassers I’ve encountered hold the same opinion. That it is their gender-determined right to own the streets with violent displays of dominance. That sexual consent doesn’t matter when it’s a verbal engagement conducted in public. That survivors of sexual assault should just suck it up and get on with it in these unwelcoming, unsafe spaces, that it doesn’t matter how triggering these interactions may be. That women don’t deserve the right to go about their daily life uninterrupted.

I’m writing this about a half hour after a man stopped and stared at me a few minutes from my house to say: “Hoo-ha, I like your smile.” Not the worst interaction, not even obscene, but the regularity of this kind of unwanted attention has apparently developed a new verbal reflex in me – I turned, pointed, and yelled without thinking: “I don’t like what you’re saying to me.” Unsurprisingly, he laughed, an affirmation that he shared the mindset of my Twitter troll. “Ha-ha!” he thinks, “look at this bitter feminist, how foolishly she rejects my sexual prowess!”

Things are bad back home, too, with one of the most moronic content ideas I’ve ever heard happening on Irish radio recently. A reporter was sent out to harass people on the street as a “social experiment” to ponder whether it was “sexual harassment or harmless flirting?” Because obviously a problem thousands of woman have spoken out about needs to be verified by a male-staffed call-in radio show. However, the fact that I had noticed street harassment’s prevalence in London within 24 hours of moving here and the prevalence of post-assault tweets I see from peers in this city suggests it’s a bigger issue here.

I often see women online trying to parse what has happened to them in a constructive way, trying to figure out how to confront street harassment on an individual scale. I spent a good two weeks trying to come up with an effective response to those who shouted obscenities at me, but the guy who muttered “nice pussy” to my fully-clothed body drove my fury past any ability to think about this reasonably. In reality, there is no effective individual action. Yes, some amazing, talented, creative, witty, fierce women might have a list of shut-downs prepared for the occasion, ready to embarrass the perpetrator while teaching them a long-lasting lesson, but this is not enough to fix the issue. It cannot be left up to victims to put an end to this crime. It’s bloody hard to bounce right back from being treated like a piece of meat to deliver an educating statement on why what they are doing is wrong. Your instinct to retort, if you have any at all, is to shout a simple “Go fuck yourself!”

This systemic violence demands a systemic response – sexual education from puberty onwards, country-wide campaigns that are not left up to under-funded feminist organisations to enact, street signange, on-the-spot fines. The likelihood of any of that happening is too saddening to comment on. But it’s enraging to see women left to tackle this on their own, as if it’s their personal cross to bear in return for inhabiting a female body.

Something that complicates the public perception of street harassment is a perceived mixed reaction. Not every instance of this assault is met with an angry comeback – some listeners to that Irish radio show tweeted in support that they would love to get a whistle on their walk home. This is confusing to think and write about, but I believe women accepting this fact and owning it is more constructive than pretending it doesn’t happen. Though not in a long time, I have smiled when I was feeling less confident and my looks were appraised on the street. There’s nothing wrong with not immediately wanting to rip the offender’s eyes out and stamp a pointed heel into them. There’s nothing wrong with wanting it and feeling empowered by it, either.

The fact is, women are trained by patriarchal society to value themselves based on the reactions of men to their appearance, and to be cripplingly insecure about their worth as a human without affirmation of their beauty from men. Louise O’Neill’s brilliant Only Ever Yours does a great job of making this painstakingly clear, but it’s pretty obvious to anyone who’s ever survived being a teenage girl in the UK or Ireland. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that some wolf whistlers are met with a warm response. However, the positive reception of a sexist crime within a sexist society does not validate that crime. The smile one perpetrator has attained does not then grant men the right to harass all women or to ignore the pleas to stop from the majority of women. Most likely, well-met harassment involves the utterance of something appearance-based and not overtly intimidating, but allowing this to happen only enables those more violent men to commit more violent assault.

I’m wary of sounding like I think people who smile at catcallers need to be “freed” or “woken up” by feminism, and I do think a more sexually open world would be a better one. But the overwhelming response to this issue is that it’s a negative one, one that makes women feel oppressed and in danger, and it would be better for everyone if it didn’t happen. If we did indeed have a more sexually open society, aggressive obscenities shouted on the street wouldn’t be necessary, because men would be able to express their sexual attraction in a coherent, positive, meaningful way – wouldn’t that be lovely? By allowing things to continue as they are, we’re harming both the women who endure it and the men who do it by encouraging the development of a dangerous and impotent understanding of sexuality. In a sad way, perhaps we might hope this threat to men might alert patriarchal authorities to the necessity of putting a stop to street harassment, because the thousands of women calling out for action have yet to be listened to.

Life as a woman in London is glorious but tough.

Some of this interview originally appeared in tn2 Magazine.

“Immersive” and “site-specific” were the buzzwords in theatre for 2014. Festival programmes were inundated with participatory performances following in the footsteps of industry leaders like England’s hugely successful Punchdrunk. Whole warehouses, sometimes even whole sides of town, have been taken over by these pioneering companies, hoping to engulf their audiences for the ultimate level of engagement. So much fuss has been made over these new dramatic heights, but what does all this innovation mean for the theatregoer? What happens when the spectator becomes part of the performance? tn2 spoke to practitioners of this kind of work about how they handle an immersed audience.


San Francisco’s Odyssey Works produce durational single-audience works. Most recently, the company tailor-made a three-month performance for the author Rick Moody which infiltrated all aspects his life in New York City, even flying him to Canada for one ephemeral encounter. Their other participants haven’t been famous, and their application process is open to anyone, followed by months of immersion in the successful applicant’s life for the team before any “performance” begins. We spoke to members of the Odyssey team: Abraham Burickson, Artistic Director; Ayden L.M.Grout, Director of Documentation; Jen Harmon, Director of Acting and Choreography; Ariel Abrahams, Director of Public Interaction.

Could you give us an insight into what makes the ideal participant?

Ariel: There is no ideal participant. At the start of every odyssey there is an application process. The process has three steps: a short online questionnaire, a very long autobiographic assignment, and for those who we feel are right, an in person interview. We trust that the right participant — whatever that means — will come to us.

It is a complicated process, but to be brief — and secretive — our decision comes down to three factors:

  1. Does it feel right? We discuss each participant in depth at our meetings. So much of the process is from the heart. How does the applicant make you feel? If they feel right, you just know it. These meetings are very funny. We get so passionate; it’s like an election! An election with too many candidates…
  2. Is the applicant emotionally stable enough for us to give an Odyssey to? We get so many applications from a wide variety of people. In the realm of those applying for a life-changing experience, a percentage are very unhappy and unstable. We make it clear that we are not art-therapists, and we do not take on subjects whom we do not think we can handle.
  3. Can we find someone who is very unlike our last participant? We like to change it up. If our last participant was a woman, maybe this time we’ll choose a man. If they were young, let’s find someone older. Rick was very different than Laura, the last participant in San Francisco, which means that the entire performance and preparation structure is different too.

How much is your work at the whim of their family and friends?

Ariel: I have never thought about our work being “at the whim” of family and friends, but I think you are right to use that language. We work with the family very closely, and they could blow our cover in a heartbeat if they wanted to. At the same time, we are very careful to gauge our trust with everyone involved in the project, including collaborating artists, the public, and even the participant. The process of making an Odyssey is a process of building trust, in order to produce a magical experience that appears to be working all on its own — and sometimes is! Making the Odyssey is so much richer an experience when the family and friends help. It becomes a community effort and a celebration of friendship through the subject. The Odyssey can very quickly become a life-changing experience for one person to a lives-changing experience for everyone involved.

How much of your plan has to be adapted during the work according to the audience’s needs, and how much can you comfortably put faith in your own original plan to see the participant through to the end?

Jen: This really depends on the particular project. It can sometimes be a delicate balance between keeping with what we established and allowing for the piece to morph as needed. We are specific about each scene’s form and content and where it fits in the overall arc of the work, considering elements like tempo, duration, tone, etc. Our team spends a great deal of time researching the person and working together to make the structure of the piece so we have confidence in our initial groundwork and outline.  At the same time, we are responsive to the participant during the time leading up to the Odyssey and on the day itself.  It is a dialogue. At times we allow the participants own experience to guide us throughout the Odyssey. I view our plan as a “score” with set and detailed areas as well as open portions. This is an exciting and alive part of our working methodology. It is also important to make space for the feelings and thoughts of the participant and for their agency to be expressed throughout the experience.  We want the participant to bring their full selves to the journey.

For you as a director, and all of the members of the team who don’t get to be with the participant all of the time, how do you cope with not being able to see the effects on the participant at each stage?

Abe: There is so much that I miss, and so much that we all miss. We have to rely on the actors, dancers, etc., to provide feedback, certainly. But, in a way, the performance happens only in the experience of the person who is experiencing it — this is central to the way we understand our work. What is the moment of a person reading a book we have written? What is the moment of art there? It is not the book itself — that’s just the vehicle for the experience. It is, rather, the moment when the participant opens the book and comes across a theme in it that resonates with his understanding of life, and then connections are made. Then it is also the moment when that theme arises again in his life, by accident as he is walking down the street and looking into a shop window and overhearing a conversation there that is related. This is the real artwork, and we can only get the full reporting back from the participant himself. And then, too, it is always partial, of  course, as it is at the frail whims of memory.

Is there anything that particularly worries you during the performance?

Ayden: There are a thousand things that can and will go wrong at some point during an Odyssey, but usually we are all so focused on making those things come together, that I don’t have time to worry. With Rick’s piece, a whole symbolic section of his journey was thwarted by the weather. He was supposed to sail from Brooklyn to Sandy Hook, NJ and hear a musical composition that had been surfacing in his life for several months. Then he would have a Homeric journey home the next day. It was a beautifully sunny, clear day but unfortunately it was dangerously windy for sailing and we had to reshuffle the entire evening on the fly that afternoon. It was disappointing, and yet, because that was just one piece of a massive undertaking, we didn’t have time to focus too much on mourning that one component even though I’m sure it would have been particularly memorable.

Is there any element of post-performance support, or are the participants left to process the experience by themselves?

Ayden: We do a debrief between a week and a month after the performance with the participant and main creative contributors. We spend an hour, interviewing and discussing the piece and its effects with the participant and we briefly share our own responses. At the debrief, our participant is allowed to ask any questions. Sometimes this is where our literary forgeries and website hacks are revealed, but sometimes participants don’t want to know everything because it disrupts the surface of reality in their experience of the Odyssey.

As for other post-performance support, we leave it in the participant’s hands to further pursue a relationship. While often we would love to be friends with our audience, I imagine it’s overwhelming for them to know where to begin. They have made themselves so incredibly, beautifully vulnerable to us, sharing some of their most private feelings and experiences, and yet they know next to nothing about our team. In the process of devoting ourselves so much to make this singular experience, we fall in love, but there’s a bit of imbalance in that relationship and I’’ve always been a bit sad about how one-sided it is. I think a lot about Lewis Hyde’s book “The Gift” and have come to believe that though it can be hard to build a long-term relationship with a participant, our hope is that they might strive to see the people in their life with the same clarity and attentiveness that we have given them, and to continue passing on the gift of being seen to others.

You’ve had an actor arrested while performing, can you tell us about any other impediments like that?

Abe: Oh boy, we’ve had a lot of run-ins with police. It is striking how easy it is to run afoul of the standard ways of doing things, and to stick out. We’ve never had real legal problems, thank God, though we’ve had a few annoying tickets to pay. Even at our most recent performance, part of which happened at a museum in San Francisco, the guards were very very worried about us, and tried to break us up and keep us out many times, even though we were just doing what you are supposed to be doing in a museum, though with more intensity I overheard one guard talking to another: “What are they doing?” and the other replied: “I don’t know, I think they’re looking at the art?” as if it were the weirdest thing in the world. Many impediments come up, and plans go awry, in every performance, but we make backup plans always, and we stay on our toes. The productions aren’t static, really, and they are all improvised, because we want that uncertainty and dynamism that accompany the sense of the real.

Could you summarize your ultimate goal in these works?

Jen: The ultimate goal is to create moving artwork. Art which communicates truths about the human condition. It is our intention to investigate complex ideas with a high level of craft and aesthetics and to fearlessly search for the meaning and the greatest impact we can have with the participant. When we focus our attention on how one person perceives the world and their particular narrative material, we also uncover similar aspects running through our own lives and can find points of connection between us. This process serves as a touchstone for the creation of art that has the potential for a deep and lasting impact, that is what we are after.

Can you tell us about your upcoming London work?

Abe: We are so thrilled to be going to London in 2016. There is still much that is up in the air, but I think we’ll be there in the second half of the year. The Battersea Arts Centre will be hosting us and co-producing an Odyssey there, and we hope to be collaborating with some wonderful local artists. I imagine we’ll have the call for applications open to London residents starting somewhere in early 2016. People can keep apprised of calls for applications by signing up at our website  (http://www.odysseyworks.org/news/) or following us on twitter (@odysseyworks). Whoever we end up doing the production for will go through a rather long application process, but, when chosen, will be given the experience free of charge. We will also be looking for additional people to become participants in a different way.

Some of this interview originally appeared in tn2 Magazine.

“Immersive” and “site-specific” were the buzzwords in theatre for 2014. Festival programmes were inundated with participatory performances following in the footsteps of industry leaders like England’s hugely successful Punchdrunk. Whole warehouses, sometimes even whole sides of town, have been taken over by these pioneering companies, hoping to engulf their audiences for the ultimate level of engagement. So much fuss has been made over these new dramatic heights, but what does all this innovation mean for the theatregoer? What happens when the spectator becomes part of the performance? tn2 spoke to practitioners of this kind of work about how they handle an immersed audience.


Breffni Holahan is an SS Drama student who recently performed in the final play of ANU’s Monto cycle, VARDO, which took its participants through the underworld of Dublin’s north inner city. The Monto — Europe’s biggest red light district in the 1920s, nestled in around Talbot and Foley Street — is back, but we just can’t see it. This time around, it’s populated by invisible immigrants.

Could you describe the scene you performed and how you prepared for it?

The part of the contemporary Monto story I was part of telling was that of the invisible sex worker and, within that, the varying degrees of willingness of participation in the sex industry. We based what the audience experienced on our interpretations of media coverage, urban legends, and, most directly, profiles and reviews on escort-ireland.com. Firsthand accounts, or verbatim testimonials. from ex-sex workers also helped formed the basis of our “script”. I escorted (pardon the pun) the audience between Busáras and the flat on Railway Street, where Bella Cohen, the prostitute of Ulysses fame operated. Here, we split the audience of two between a one-on-one experience with Bella, and a three-on-one experience of a brothel caught between crisis and the everyday. In the kitchen, three sex workers, each with their own literal and figurative “baggage,” waited. We ate Cornflakes, talked about the soaps, described the parties thrown in the apartment, and performed a movement piece around the audience member (think of them sitting at a table, presented with crotch after crotch after crotch). Upon the rotation of these audience members, I brought one into a bedroom where I asked them if they recognized me and if they would recognize me if we met again. “It’s probably best if you don’t.” Phones rang, showers ran, and when the 12 minutes was up, we were out of there and onto the next snippet of the modern-day Monto.

Had you experienced much of this kind of theatre as a spectator yourself before acting it? Did this inform your performance?

I had seen the previous installment of the Monto Cycle, Boys of Foley Street, which somewhat braced me for what to expect from the process and performance. I haven’t been exposed to much of it, as I’ve only had my “hip/cool” theatre-going hat on since being in college. I’ve since made an effort to see the biggies; I’ve crossed off seeing some work by Punchdrunk, for example, and You Me Bum Bum Train is next on my theatre-going bucket-list.

How did being around the actual community you were portraying a part of feel for you? Were you a kind of audience yourself initially?

Walking to and from rehearsals was just as much part of developing an understanding of the area as what we did in-studio or on-site. You’ve really got to have your eyes and ears peeled to spot and appreciate the workings of the area today. We moved into the flat about a week before previews. It’s strange how quickly it became our home. Everything changes when you move in. This is where the theatre becomes more “site-responsive” than “site-specific.”

Vardo forced its audience to feel complicit in dark and dirty acts; how do you cope with the tension in such an intimate exchange? Did you ever feel an urge to put the audience at ease in any way?

In relation to practicality, the show is timed out so exactly that we only open the flood-gates when we can ensure that we have time to deal with the fall-out. Louise and Owen are incredibly skilled in managing the balance between the hyper-real and reminding the audience that they’re at and in a play. Learning this from them takes a while, but when you hit it, it’s really satisfying. It really comes into play when you have an audience member in front of you who is close to saying that they “want out.” Every audience member has a different gauge, so, although the awareness of the balance of “reality” and reality is woven into the score of the show, the onus is on the performer to gauge that audience member’s vibes and know how to express that to them to keep them in the in-between of ease and engagement.

We recently interviewed the star of a panto and she told us that the audience’s reactions are the top priority for the show. Would you say the same of the audience’s participation in this kind of performance, or is the balance tipped more towards the stories the actors are telling? I know Lowe has said that you have to respect the kind of audience who just wants to watch, but did it ever happen that you had an entire group who didn’t want to engage?

There’s definitely a balance that needs to be struck between allowing the audience to have agency—which they’ve come to expect in work by Anu and their contemporaries—and hitting the marks of the show. The work is made to be accessible to those who want to sit back and “enjoy,” and to those who want to exercise their agency at every opportunity. Louise and Owen equip their performers with the ability to gauge and handle every shade on the spectrum. It really comes down to knowing the world you’re inhabiting right down to your bones. It’s bizarre how organically you come to know when it’s the right time to hit a mark, move on, or just be with the audience in a moment they have instigated. In fact, you know you’ve done it right when all three happen with one audience member.

Did the interaction with these small groups of people leave any lasting effect on you after the show’s run?

It’s funny you should ask. As my piece was based on warning them against acknowledging me with a “smile, or a nod, or a wave,” if we met again, I’ve had some funny encounters of hesitant smiles and nods and waves. It’s pretty impossible to forget the face of someone you have shared something with. It’s private (a sort of unofficial confidentiality agreement in is place), and I have yet to forget a face and the experience that they contributed. Along with those experiences, the people in the stories we told, and all that informed them, won’t ever leave me, I don’t think. I feel a real affinity with them and what they are based on. The square quarter mile of the Monto itself was home for a very special part of my life, and “you can take the actor out of Vardo…!”

I’ve seen Lowe mention a “communion” with the audience; did she or ANU in general train you in any specific way to achieve that?

Moments of “communion” between performer and the audience member aren’t necessarily the end-goal for which we were gunning and trained to achieve. They’re a beautiful bonus for both parties in what is always an individual experience with another human being. It can be as simple as asking a question and not demanding an answer or the explanation behind an answer given. “Have you ever been loved?” “Are you going to let this happen?” These questions provoke the audience to reflect on themselves. They then have the option of sharing that reflection with you, the performer, or not. Either way, that is the moment of communion and, yeah, we strive for them, because we thrive on them – in life and in performance.

This review originally appeared in tn2 Magazine.

If you’ve ever wondered what Puzzle-Adventure-Gaming: Unplugged would look like, Fused is your answer. Ten players from the audience guide our protagonist, Ste, through a series of suitably cheesy and nonsensical scenes designed as an homage to 90s point-and-clickers, commanding him over a microphone to interact with non-player characters or pick up objects. As the clock ticks down to looming appointments or self-destruct systems, the unlikely team of theatre-goers must leave their dramatic expectations aside and revert to nights spent sitting with siblings around a PlayStation, brainstorming to figure out just how they’re going to get past that villain unseen. A clear split soon emerges among the audience as seasoned gamers gnaw knuckles while newbies flail in unfamiliar puzzle-logic — it takes a certain kind of person to see that a sandwich might be the key to the next level. Thankfully, the warm performance from Ste Murray opens this experience up for any level of player, and the pace of the show ensures the team in the front row bond quickly.

Dan Bergin has scripted the piece with a keen eye for gaming convention, full of delightfully repetitive and vapid dialogue that’d fit perfectly on any console. The improvisation required by the cast is incredible with Murray completely at the audience’s whim: a command to move into the next room requires an entire scene-change, and these can come every 30-second turn. As a nod to the older gaming-models mentioned at the opening of the show, this play fits the bill perfectly, forgettable and irrational plot included. This format is fresh and welcome, and Bergin’s next step might be to emulate the progression of more meaningful gaming.

2014 has been a memorable year for Facebook memes: the No Make-up Selfie, infinite Ice Bucket Challenges, and most recently, 10 Books that Have Stayed With Me. Finally, the lists of stuff we like have made their triumphant return, having held out in the corners of the internet since the lost days of Bebo. Not only are we free to inventory our enthusiasms again, we all get to gush about our very favourite topic: books!

The idea is you list 10 of the books you feel have made a lasting impact on your life, without thinking too hard or trying to appear very intellectual, and then tag a friend or two to do the same. This literary love-in has made social media all the more pleasant, but one aspect of the trend has particularly pleased us. Facebook Data Science – an official, Mark Zuckerberg-approved team that carries out interesting research based on the endless data our everyday scrolling creates – have taken stock of all of this listing. Taking 130,000 of these “10 Books” statuses, the data scientists compiled the most popular 100 books. The sample demographic was mostly American, and the mean age was 37. Keep that age in mind when thinking about the following:

Four of the top ten books were explicitly written for a young audience: the HARRY POTTER series at number one, THE HOBBIT at number four, THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy at eight and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA at ten. Four of the others could easily be said to have gained YA status since publication: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD has been inextricably linked to school curriculums. THE LORD OF THE RINGS is often a teenage follow-on from reading THE HOBBIT. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is lauded as the origin of Young Adult fiction. A lot of cult followers of THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY will have began their obsession with this novel in adolescence. The last two books in the top ten are PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, which a lot of people will choose in their teens as their first foray into Jane Austen, and the Holy Bible.

Hooray for kids books! We’re quite chuffed. To be fair, there are some pretty obvious reasons to explain why these children’s titles keep cropping up. Most of us will agree that our first twenty are our “formative” years, so it makes sense the texts connected to that period will have stuck around in our minds as “formative” ones. There’s also the likelihood that a lot of those 37 year-old Americans were referencing texts that they read in school, and were perhaps some of the first books they really did a deep reading of and began to explore more meaningful themes and issues with. People in that demographic also probably got a lot busier as they got older, and books can lose their memorability as the rest of life’s responsibilities get in the way of poring over your favourite tome for hours upon hours, the way kids can.

Still, taking a look at the data scientists’ longer list throws some of those assumptions up in the air. A lot of the top 10 might be said to be books that come with a message about society, and would stick around in your mind because of what you’ve learned from them. That’s true of most of the top 100, and is kind of the point of the meme. However, can that be said of books so fantastical and whimsical as CHARLOTTE’S WEB, MATILDA and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE? Not to say that Maurice Sendak didn’t teach us all a lesson or two about parenthood and what not to do when you’re called for dinner, but it somehow feels more likely that the picturebook is said to have stuck with so many people because of its inimitable illustrations of bashful beasts and its strikingly playful language. “We’ll eat you up – we love you so” is as good a reason as any to list a book as one you won’t forget.

There are some solid explanations as to why we shouldn’t be too surprised about children’s fiction taking over these lists, but there’s also the simple fact that kids books are made to be cherished. While adult novels seek to provoke and open discussion – and a lot of young adult books do, too – some of the first books a human ever reads were probably published just for them to adore. A story you can keep, illustrations so bright you couldn’t possibly forget them, nursery rhymes that introduce you to the bold world of poetry – all of these elements of children’s books make them perfect for nostalgic throwbacks just like these Facebook lists. While these traits might be more prevalent in early readers that most Facebook users wouldn’t say changed them in any real way, they’re still the books you’re probably going to remember most fondly. They definitely bleed into the older texts listed in the above top 10; what would the HARRY POTTER novels have been without their instantly recognisable covers? (Hideous American oddities that made Harry look like a wooden toy, that’s what).

Check out the full Facebook Data Science report here!

This review originally appeared in tn2 Magazine

“I guess I just prefer his old stuff.” Such is the sad refrain for many leaving Mark O’Rowe’s Our Few and Evil Days, a play that takes a pinch of the grisly surrealism he is so admired for, a dash of his characteristic storytelling craftsmanship, and sprinkles these over a chiefly realist piece of work.

O’Rowe’s first new stage piece since 2007’s Terminus — a riotous tour of Dublin’s underworld told in rhyme — clearly disembarks from where he left off, obvious from the moment the audience sits down. The Abbey’s main stage is dressed in plush greens and dark woods to make up a rather imposing living room, dining area, kitchen, and even a glimpse of a utility room out the back. Paul Wills has spared no detail (even down to working taps) when moving off from O’Rowe’s previous minimalism. This family home, so beautifully crafted, contains even the darkest of moments in such a believable trapping that the viewer feels like a voyeur; like these are the lives of a real family unfolding before us.

Unlike those in Terminus, most of these lives could very well be real. The text contains suicide, incestuous rape, heinous obsession, and tempestuous violence — it can feel a bit like O’Rowe is ticking off a list of disturbing taboos at times — but nothing so fantastical as a celestial being made up of a body of worms. The most important segments of the play are delivered by the unnervingly natural Sinéad Cusack and Ciarán Hinds, doing his best Dublin Da, so even when the play tends toward the farfetched they maintain the tone within the realms of verisimilitude. As the couple battle over the consequences of the murder of their son, the audience can see themselves using the same pleas in their own tiffs, buckling in the same sad way — their acting is the production’s biggest strength.

Our Few and Evil Days tells a surreal family story in an admirably realist way, but just doesn’t shine so much as the playwright’s more hypnagogic work.

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